Bread, the staple of Africa

So as you likely already know, I took a wonderful month long trip to Africa. While there I was on a tour group, and had the most amazing time of my life. I came back a changed person, hopefully for the better. However, what I learned about Africa is how much they live off of bread (and bread like products).

From a tour perspective, I probably was eating 4 – 6 slices of heavy bread a day. It’s cheap and easily available, so I am not surprised they fed us lots of bread. Interestingly enough, it didn’t make me feel sick compared to the bread here in North America. I started to think maybe I mentally made myself feel sick at home, and while on vacation I just ‘went with it.’ So I gave myself a small test. When I came back, I ate a piece of bread, and guess what, sick again. When I say sick, I mean bloated, crampy, gassy, and generally uncomfortable. Yet, when I was in Africa, I did feel a bit bloated, but nothing compared to my test.

My conclusion: buy bread in Africa. Okay, just kidding, but there is something to be said around how many ingredients and processes are used to make bread in North America so it a) looks nice, b) smells nice and c) lasts long enough for someone to pick it up in the store and then eat it over some time. Bread in Africa, you buy it today; you better eat it by tomorrow.

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Then while I was visiting villages and local homes, I realized that they always had bread or “dough” type food made from either cassava (pictured above) or maize, both of which they grow in their farms in the village. Its very cheap to cultivate, and relatively easy process to make into a flour consistency to be made into “bread.” Here are a couple of my observations around this.

Firstly, these bread food products are clearly a staple and usually more than 50% of a plate’s portion. Furthermore, also usually eaten daily at nearly every meal! Secondly, none, and I mean NONE of the people I came across were obese, none. There are many reasons for that, which I will not get into, but even if I personally ate more than 50% of my diet on bread like products and worked out daily, I would still be significantly overweight.

Truthfully, I don’t have any conclusions about these observations. But it really did put a couple of holes in some of my personal assumptions about bread, and also the quality and purity of ingredients. And, realistically, it makes me want to become a farmer or something.

Picture: local woman peeling cassava which will be then fermented and turned into flour.

 

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Picture: The cassava in the fermenting process, it smells like cheese, and as you can see its just out in the open. IMG_6598.JPG

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spices, why you rub me the wrong way

I always laugh at myself when I am “winging” it in the kitchen because I have no idea what I am doing when it comes to spices. All my friends are always saying “oh just add some this and that, and its a staple.” Okay, first of all, I don’t even no how to pronounce CUMIN. It it Que-min or Koo-min.

Spices are hard for me. I have a couple things that I use all the time, which are:

  • Salt
  • Pepper (my favourite being the ‘smoked pepper‘ from Williams Sonoma)
  • Garlic Powder
  • Onion Powder

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But anything beyond this, I don’t
know. For example, I have paprika
and hot chilli powder, which happen to look the same. I cannot taste the difference between them. I use what is called for in recipes (which is why I have both), but never really know what else I can use them for.

 

Oregano, which I also pronounce as OR-a-Gan-oh, which makes everyone chuckle a little, is weird to me too. How does that compare to dried basil and dill. They are green and leafy. I always wonder which is better on beef, chicken or poultry.

Curry. Curries. All the curry in the world. I happen to be married to a beautiful Indo-Canadian who does zero cooking, but he once explained curries as the lighter the milder which has stuck with me. I find the same works for thai curries. But again, why are there two regional curries in the freaking first place.

To my husbands displeasure, I buy most of my spices through William Sonoma. I like them because you can open them in the store, smell them, and ask a bazillion questions. Also, they are cute and easy to stack. I find that I can smell, touch, etc, has helped me buy new stuff, but I’m still a little scared. Additionally, another brand I like are the organic Whole Foods ones called Organic 365. These are my back up for two reasons; first William Sonoma doesn’t carry all spices and second they are up the street from me.

On a similar note, I had one small spice win, I was able to re-create Cactus Club’s blackened chicken (and steak) spice rub. I made it a few times and tastes exactly the same (I just avoided adding the sugar & it was still perfect). Thank you to the genius who put this on the internet. #gratitude

I honestly don’t have a solution here for myself or anyone. But if anyone can please explain CUMIN for me, that will be enough for me to feel like I have moved one step further to understanding spices.

Shepherd’s pie, with a few twists!

I got excited when I found a recipe in my #whole30 book (referenced in other blogs) for Shepherd’s pie. I have never made it before (any version). But before we get started on that, let me go on a small rant!

I recently started a small debate on facebook about yams vs sweet potatoes. The recipe called for sweet potatoes, while the image next to it is orange; the colour of yams. In the store, I picked up “yams” (as the label said) to make it look like the recipe pictured. I completely effed up and didn’t get the orange yams, I got sweet potatoes. It looks like the grocery store is just as confused as I am! This sweet potato/yam issue is not good for someone who is learning to cook and learning about vegetables. I have lost confidence in this area.IMG_2901.JPG

Okay, back to my point! The recipe is on page 350 of the cook book. I made mine with lamb (my first twist, which is also quite traditional) and instead of putting this in a 9” X 12” casserole dish, I used a 9.5” X 9.5” dish (my second twist). Interestingly enough, I thought that the recipe would have been a bit too thin in a larger casserole dish.

IMG_2902.JPGFinally, I didn’t make the recipe with yams (because it said sweet potatoes!) I used Canadian sweet potatoes instead (the white ones). I also used my hand blender to make the sweet potato into an easy mash.

IMG_2899.JPGI got a little cheeky and make a smiley face in my food! This dish made 6 meals and cost about $30 – so about $5/meal (not bad!)

Recipe difficulty (Agata scale) 5 out of 10

Recipe taste (Agata scale) 8 out of 10

Things I would do differently:

  • make more meat

  • add more veggies, like parsnips and peppers

  • use a different shape casserole (would feed a good group of people)

 

Catcha what? I caught a chicken! Nope, just made a delicious Chicken Cacciatore

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Hahaha, I had to have a few people tell me how to pronounce that last word a few times, in fact, don’t ask me ever again. I got a braiser (I was totally pining for it for a while, and then it was on sale, thanks @WilliamSonoma) and I just went ahead and made the purchase. Long story short, my husband wasn’t thrilled. But I was (insert evil grin here)!

So I knew I wanted to try doing something with said braiser and I had an opportunity to cook for my sister-in-law and mother-in-law who were eating quite healthy as I was at the time (I still am I guess). So I decided to go through the Whole 30 recipe book (image below) IMG_1220.JPGand found a great looking recipe on page 334 – 335. Side bar, it has capers in it. I love capers. I eat capers everyday. Capers….. Okay, I’m back, so here is what I learned about braisers and this recipe.

Braiser – primarily used for “braising, browning and poaching” and man did it brown my skin-covered chicken breast. I guess in many ways it similar to the dutch oven, except that is round and low side walls. I found it easy to flip the chicken in it. I suspect I would have likely burnt my wrist (again).

The recipe – Firstly, it was stupid good, which means it was exceptional. Like so good, I wish I had more. I ate like a mad woman when I finally tasted it! I paired this with cauliflower rice (same book, page 366 – 367), which complimented the flavors well. The recipe was quite full, as you can see here in the picture.

Recipe difficulty (Agata scale) 9 out of 10

Recipe taste (Agata scale) 9.5 out of 10

 

 

How to host a large dinner?

IMG_2610I have hosted large dinners before, but I usually didn’t cook all, or any, of the food. This past Christmas, I did it! And I did it all by myself too. My inner Martha Stewart came out for sure. I broke down the dinner into a couple of categories, which helped me succeed on the a) experience b) taste and c) schedule/time.

The first category I have called Inspiration because that is literally where I begin. I see something that inspires a theme, feel, or color. Then I start a pinterest board. Lucky for me, I always have a board rolling on Christmas. The second category is Menu. Everyone thought I was a little crazy to include this, but you will see why below. The third category I call Logistics; pretty self explanatory. The last category I will call D-Day Action Plan. I guess it was really C-Day, but you know what I mean.

Inspiration

This year’s Christmas inspiration came from two places. If you look closely at the photos, you will there see that there are actually two themes! The black, white, and gold theme I picked out late last year. I saw this tree that left me amazed, and I knew I could have it too! (Especially since my 9 foot tree is white.) The second inspiration came when I was shopping this fall and fell in love with tartan. Pretty much tartan everything. So I wanted a classic looking table setting.

Menu

IMG_2549This year I made a menu and even got it printed through tinyprints (holla). They have been getting my business for a while now. I always thought printed menus were classy, and since I am already married, I didn’t think I would get another opportunity to have them. It also kept me honest and made me feel confident. I made the menu over a few days by looking up traditional Christmas dinner meals, and then adding some of my favorites (mushrooms), some of my husband’s (corn). Before I knew it I had a full dinner menu! Though I still ran it by my willing sister-in-law to get the final ‘okay’.
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The menu is important for two reasons. First, you make your grocery list based on that menu. I found recipes online that did automatic conversions when I multiplied the volume; that was so helpful! The second reason is that it stops you from going bananas. It is easy, especially during holidays, to buy extra cake, extra this or that, and just one more thing. Before you know it, you have way too much food. We did have leftovers, but nothing out of this world. It made me realize that keeping to the menu is very important!

Logistics

Logistics come quite naturally to me, so I was going to skip this section. But then I thought I should share if it helps others. The first thing I made was a list of who was invited and got a rough confirmation of numbers. Then I confirmed I had enough chairs and table space. It turns out, I did not, but that’s okay! We went and bought more folding tables and chairs to add to the dining room. Then I made sure each person had one drinking glass, one spare glass, one large plate, one dessert plate, set full of cutlery, a napkin (I like IMG_2547linen), and a place setting which included a name tag, dinner menu, and Christmas cracker.

Then I made sure there were at least 3 to 4 areas in my house for various activities. I made one room the gingerbread house making station (out of graham crackers, I am not crazy okay!), another the chill-zone by the tree & fireplace, the dining room to eat, and lastly the kitchen and island (a common male stomping ground).

Finally, I set up the tables and chairs extra early to make sure everything would fit. I had one small surprise, but it was easily fixed, and that’s the stress you don’t want on D-Day! Next I wrote a list of things to do the day before the dinner. For me that included most of the chopping and peeling, and making the desserts. Then I created a schedule from the time I woke up, until dinner time the day of. My schedule included things like; put in the turkey, baste the turkey, start the gravy, have a shower, start potatoes, blow dry hair, and so on. This helped me more than I realized because it didn’t go to plan! I knew the dependencies of my scheduled time and was able to make it work regardless of being behind by 20 minutes. Only I knew that, but still.

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Although I made a list, it’s important as a host to remember to enjoy your time too. I made myself a promise that I wouldn’t get “things done” at the detriment of enjoying peoples’ company. I also made sure I didn’t refuse help. In fact, all of the little things everyone did let me get the dinner ready pretty damn close to on time. So remember that on D-Day it isn’t about being perfect, but being perfectly happy! Because you did the best you could, and people you love are coming to see you! (and eat the food too)